INDIANAPOLIS (Ticker) -- Illinois is starting to look like the team it was forecasted to be.
Cory Bradford scored 18 of his 25 points in the first half as the 15th-ranked Fighting Illini cruised to a 92-76 victory over Minnesota in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Conference tournament.
With an experienced team that reached the Midwest Region final in the NCAA Tournament in 2000-2001, the Fighting Illini (24-7) failed to play up to expectations for much of this season.
But the Illini have turned it up by winning nine straight games and they will meet Ohio State in Saturday's semifinals.
Bradford, one of the returnees from last season's squad, was huge in the first half of this contest as the Illini raced to a 16-point lead less than 10 minutes into the game and cruised the rest of the way.
Sean Harrington added 16 points and Brian Cook 13 for the Fighting Illini, who shot a blistering 62 percent (28-of-45) and made 13-of-23 attempts from 3-point range. Dusty Rychart netted 23 points for Minnesota (17-12), which will be hoping for an at-large berth into the NCAA Tournament.
"Tonight's loss doesn't help," Minnesota coach Dan Monson said. "We had plenty of opportunities and did not take advantage of them tonight. Whatever the committee decides on Sunday, we'll have to live with it." Five days ago, the Golden Gophers squandered a double-digit lead in the waning moments of a 67-66 loss to Illinois at home. The Illini scored the final 10 points of that contest.
"I think we were (fearing a let down)," Illinois coach Bill Self said. "That was an emotional game Sunday. I've been on the other side and it's a tough game to not win when you play as well as Minnesota did. Our guys were focused and ready to play." Bradford was on target from the start, drilling a pair of 3-pointers and scoring on a pair of fastbreak layups as the Illini opened a 25-9 lead 10 minutes into the contest.
"The guys did a great job of making extra passes to me and I just have to jump up there and knock down shots," said Bradford, who went 8-of-11 from floor and 5-of-8 from 3-point range.
Illinois led by 17 points on two occasions in the half, the last time at 40-23 with 2:53 to play before intermission on a 3-pointer by Damir Krupalija.
The Golden Gophers closed the half strongly, using a 13-6 run to pull within 46-36 at the break. In the half, the Illini shot 61 percent (14-of-23).
"We sure made our fair share of shots tonight," Self said."We executed pretty well on offense tonight and Cory (Bradford) made some shots to get us started." A foul shot by Kerwin Fleming helped the Golden Gophers close to 47-39 with 18:32 to play before Illinois answered with the decisive run.
Harrington drilled two 3-pointers and made a layup in a 16-2 surge that made it 63-41 with 13:11 to play. Harrington went 5-of-9 from the field, including 4-of-6 from the arc.
"I just got a lot of shots out of the rhythm of the offense,"Harrington said. "That's when I'm at my best, when I'm not forcing shots. Every shot I had today was out of the rhythm of the offense." The Illinois, who led by at least 14 points the rest of the way, were able to roll despite explosive guard Frank Williams going scoreless and taking just one shot in 35 minutes. He did hand out 11 assists while playing with a wrist injury he suffered in the season finale against Minnesota.
Travarus Bennett added 11 points and Maurice Hargrow 10 for Minnesota, which shot 45 percent (24-of-53).